Computer scientists often build algorithms with a keen focus on “solving the problem,” without considering the larger implications and potential misuses of the technology they’re creating. That’s how we wind up with machine learning that prevents qualified job applicants from advancing, or blocks mortgage applicants from buying homes, or creates miscarriages of justice in parole and other aspects of the criminal justice system.
James Mickens—a lifelong hacker, perennial wisecracker, and would-be philosopher-king who also happens to be a Harvard University professor of computer science—says we must educate computer scientists to consider the bigger picture early in their creative process. In a world where much of what we do each day involves computers of one sort or another, the process of creating technology must take into account the society it’s meant to serve, including the most vulnerable.
Mickens speaks with EFF's Cindy Cohn and Danny O’Brien about some of the problems inherent in educating computer scientists, and how fixing those problems might help us fix the internet.
In this episode you’ll learn about:
- Why it’s important to include non-engineering voices, from historians and sociologists to people from marginalized communities, in the engineering process
- The need to balance paying down our “tech debt” —cleaning up the messy, haphazard systems of yesteryear—with innovating new technologies
- How to embed ethics education within computer engineering curricula so students can identify and overcome challenges before they’re encoded into new systems
- Fostering transparency about how and by whom your data is used, and for whose profit
- What we can learn from Søren Kierkegaard and Stan Lee about personal responsibility in technology
You can find more information, including resources and a transcript, at eff.org/pod207.